How many people know the history of All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day? Maybe, like many of the younger generation, you do not know why these two holidays are observed. You might be one of those people who only know that these two special days are events that follow the day or night of fun of tricking or treating on Halloween.
Christians around the world celebrate the two holidays, All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day on November 1 and 2, respectively. All Saints’ Day has different terms. Some call it All Hallows’ Day, Feast of All Saints or Hallowmas. Did you known that the term Hallow means ”holy?”
As the name implies, it is a day to commemorate all the saints of the Christian church, whether they are unknown or known, who people believe went to heaven. In the churches in the Western world, the day is celebrated annually on November 1, while in the churches in the East, All Saints’ Day is remembered on the first Sunday following Pentecost. November 1 is a holy day of obligation for the Roman Catholics. It is also celebrated in Anglican churches.
The Roman Catholic Church solemnly celebrates November 2, which is All Souls’ Day. This is the day the dead loved ones, who people believed are in Purgatory to be cleaned of their mortal and venial sins in preparation for their entry into Heaven, are remembered.
What’s ironic is that in many parts of the world, they remember the dead on November 1 instead of on November 2. In many countries, All Souls’ Day is almost a forgotten holiday.
The origins of All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day
Contrary to what some people believe, All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day did not evolve from paganism. But, some parts of pagan practices were included by other cultures, while others naturally became part of the All Saints and All Souls’ celebrations.
Origin of All Saints’ Day
November 1 is All Saints’ Day, the day Christians in many parts of the world remember all the known and unknown martyrs and saint through the history of the Christian world. The churches declared that November 1 is a day of obligation, which means that Christians are required to go to church and try to avoid doing any submissive work.
The feast day comes after Hallow’s Eve or Hallow’een. The traditional activity during Halloween is to hold a vigil and pray for all the martyrs and saints. And get this –Halloween is not related to horror images and other new activities practiced by people today to celebrate Halloween.
The Christian tradition of honoring martyrs and saints as well as declaring a special day for each saint started in the 4th century AD, but the tradition of remembering all martyrs began in 609 AD after the declaration of Pope Boniface IV.
In the beginning, the Feast of All Holy Martyrs was observed on May 13, but Pope Gregory IV decided to include all the saints in the feast day, calling it Feast of All Saints and moving the date to November 1 in 837 AD.
History of All Souls’ Day
All Souls’ Day is commemorated on November 2. On this day Anglo-Catholic and Roman Catholic churches pay homage to the people who have left the earth. They offer prayers to the souls who are still in purgatory.
The idea for the souls dwelling in purgatory came from the idea that sins committed when the person was still living were not cleansed by the soul leaving the physical body. Through personal sacrifices and prayers, the persons related to the dead have the chance to aid the souls to attain happiness for eternity.
In the 7th or 8th century AD, all the churches in the world read “The Office of the Dead” prayer. A Requiem Mass for the departed is offered as well. People visit the graves of their family members and reflect on the lives of the loved ones they lost.
The tradition of designating one day to remember and pray for the souls of the departed and in purgatory was started by Odilo. He was the Abbott of Cluny Abbey that is located in France. From being a local feast in his monastery, it gradually spread out to other churches until the end of the 10th century.
Unique observances of All Saints’ Day around the world
As you can see, very few people continue to observe All Souls’ Day and instead combined the celebration on All Saints’ Day. And the observations of All Saints’ Day differ.
1. Among churches
Traditionally, the feast day starts with a vigil in the evening of All Saints’ Day with fasting and praying as observed by the Antioch Church. For the Catholics, the feast day begins with a mass and prayer offerings to all the saints and the Virgin Mary. Giving thanks to living and dead saints is the practice among members of the Episcopalian and Lutheran churches. For the Orthodox churches, the first Sunday after Pentecost is the day they honor Christian martyrs.
Mexico celebrates the Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) as a two-day holiday that starts on November 1, which is designated as the day for little angels or angelitos. The second day honors the dead adults. Mexicans observe the day by having family gatherings at their local cemeteries. It is a joyful occasion that is similar to a family reunion except for the venue.
Parades feature a cacophony of items, from frightening effigies of skeletons and skulls, seasonal flowers and complicated wreaths. Religious rituals in the evening are accompanied by fireworks. Gravesites have vibrant and elaborate decorations and a variety of food are offered on decorated altars. People, young and old paint their faces to look like skeletons and wear appropriate costumes before going to the cemeteries.
Filipinos, many of whom are Catholics, observe All Saints’ Day (Undas) with family gatherings at the gravesites of their departed loved ones. In urban areas, many start the holiday with Halloween on October 31. Days before All Saints’ Day, people clean and repaint their loved ones’ graves. Many people still visit the cemeteries on November 2, especially those people who have relatives and friends in different parts of the metro. People offer masses and prayers while lighting votive candles and decorating the gravesites with fresh flowers.
The observance of All Saints’ Day in Spain is very similar to the celebrations in the Philippines. People visit the family graves and offer candles and flowers. A celebration the Spanish people call castañada is observed in northern Spain. Chestnuts and fire are the main features of the celebration, a ritual performed to commemorate the dead, due to their belief that the spirits of their departed return to their families’ homes while the feast is ongoing.
The observance of All Saints’ Day is more solemn in Poland. They leave food and flowers at their family gravesites. They also bake the bread of the dead to leave at the gravesite or share them with the priests to placate the spirits.
Guatemalans visit the tombs of their departed relatives to offer prayers and share the El Fiambre dish, which is a combination of vegetables, fish, meats, cheeses and eggs. The preparation for the special dish takes two days. The Giant Kite Festival is celebrated on November 1 as well. This comes from the belief that they can communicate with their dead relatives through the colorful kites.
On All Saints’ Day in Austria, the Allerheiligenstriezel (braided yeast bread) is given out by godfathers to their godchildren. It refers to the old funeral tradition in Austria where women, as a sign of mourning for their loved ones, cut off their braided hair.
Instead of calling it All Saints’ Day, Haitians call their celebration as Festival of the Ancestors, Feast of the Dead or Fet Gede. It starts with a pilgrimage to Port-au-Prince’s Grand Cemetery to pay honor to their dead relatives. Using dance, music and rituals they give honor to the spirits from the past—Papa Gede (souls’ messenger) and Baron Semedi (guardian of the cemetery).
Although the exact beginning of the celebrations for All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day are not certain, the feasts are a means for family members and friends to gather and spend time together, to remember their loved ones and catch up on things. Tracing their roots and histories, you can see the links between pagan rituals, religious practices and seasonal celebrations.
From all of us at Day Translations, Inc. we send a little prayer through the saints and for all the dearly departed. If you want your messages and letters translated into more than 100 language pairs, get in touch with us. Our native-speaking translators are located in-country and can quickly respond to your request anytime, anywhere you are located. You can either send us an email at Contact us or call us at 1-800-969-6853. Count on the translators of Day Translations to deliver highly accurate translation all the time. We are open the entire day, 365 days a year, so you do not have to miss any deadline.
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